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Is It Possible for MMA Fighters to Sue the UFC?

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MMA fighter in court (AI rendering)

Special to Chicago’s MMA

The world of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and mixed martial arts (MMA) is tricky, as it can be a dangerous sport but highly entertaining for fights and fans alike. Most fights cause injuries even among particularly skilled fighters, and many would agree that sustaining injuries is part of the sport itself. However, there are some cases where rules are broken or safety procedures aren’t followed, which raises the question: can MMA fighters sue the UFC or others for personal injury cases? The answer, as you’ll find out, is a bit complicated.

Legal Protections for MMA Fighters

The UFC has contracts in place between fighters and the organization to follow specific rules, including broadly behaving in a moral, ethical, and legal manner. They are generally held to a high standard to step into the octagon. Additionally, UFC needs to provide fighters with a safe, secure, and functioning environment, including any equipment provided. MMA fighters contracted with UFC are generally not employees, however, so these protections are implied or contractual on a case-by-case basis.

Illegal or Dangerous Behavior

Disciplinary action is taken when a fighter engages in any illegal or dangerous activities, including causing willful, unnecessary danger to another person or fighter. One may argue that MMA fighting in general causes danger to others, but this is done in a controlled manner with rules and regulations. Any danger that breaks those rules can be subject to disciplinary action, such as illegal fighting moves or bringing a weapon into the ring. An MMA fighter can sue another fighter for this behavior, but they typically need to prove that the behavior was willful and intentional, as opposed to an accidental illegal move. This may be difficult to do in certain cases. Avoiding this type of situation can start with training for MMA safely and correctly.  

Event Security

There can be other security threats to MMA fighters outside of the fight itself, such as dangerous fans or criminal harm caused by inadequate UFC security. In certain cases, an MMA fighter may have a case if a lack of security caused injury or harm, given that the fighter did not put themselves in harm’s way on purpose. Additionally, if a referee employed by the UFC doesn’t perform their duties correctly, directly causing an injury, a fighter may have a case if it is provable.

Defective Equipment

If the UFC is operating with defective equipment, such as broken protective gear or worn arena barriers, this can turn into a personal injury claim. Typically, sporting events and organizations must provide safe, functional, and intact equipment and gear to their athletes. There is a history of athletes suing their organizations for defective equipment.

Contract Disputes

When an MMA fighter teams up with UFC, they are typically under a strict contract. In some cases, contract disputes may arise, such as agreed payment amounts or unwillingness to fight in certain contracted events. Cases involving contract law may arise if contracts were drawn up illegally or the UFC can be proven to be in breach of contract.

Management Issues

There have been several cases where management issues such as fighter pay suppression or inappropriate handling of fighter pay have come up within the UFC and MMA fighting world. UFC fighters are generally considered independent contractors by the organization, not direct employees, but UFC or other managers can be found in breach of contract when applicable.

Types of MMA Injuries

MMA injuries are not rare; in fact, it’s quite common for fighters to need hospital care after a fight. MMA fighting and contracting with UFC typically implies that fighters assume the risk of injury by participating. Bruises, broken bones, torn ligaments, and sprains are not uncommon in the octagon. Protective gear helps to minimize these injuries, particularly to the head and hands, but injuries can still occur. If injuries happen due to negligence or illegal fighting moves, lack of security, or broken equipment, a fighter may be eligible for a personal injury case.

When to Contact a Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured in an MMA fight outside of the typical causes of a fighting injury, that is a good indication to consider contacting a lawyer. These cases will typically involve personal injury, so finding an attorney specializing in personal injuries is ideal. To find a lawyer in your area, a simple search such as, ‘personal injury lawyers in Chicago’ or ‘New York contract attorneys’ will provide good results. It’s important to read reviews, ratings, and any attorney fee policies before choosing one. They can determine whether you have an eligible case, and how difficult it will be to win.

Conclusion

It is possible for MMA fighters to sue the UFC under certain circumstances, though winning may be difficult. However, there are certain obligations the UFC must adhere to in order to protect fighters as much as possible. Faulty equipment, lack of disciplinary action to rulebreaking, lack of security, or contract disputes may be good causes for a UFC lawsuit in some cases. Additionally, fighters may have a case against other fighters if intent can be proven. It’s important to contact an attorney in your area to determine eligibility for a case, as all situations are different. Personal injury attorneys can tell you if you have a case against UFC and how difficult it will be to win if so.

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